Rae Na Lee ’19, an undergraduate from Seoul, South Korea, died Friday morning at her home in New Haven. Yale College Dean Jonathan Holloway notified the campus community of Lee’s passing in a message on Friday afternoon. Lee was 20 years old.
A member of Calhoun College and the Yale women’s fencing team, Lee was not currently enrolled in Yale College. She is survived by her husband and her parents.
“[W]e know that this news, coming as it does during a week with other loss and sadness on our campus, resonates deeply within our community,” Holloway wrote in his email. Lee’s passing came only four days after the campus learned of the death of Hale Ross ’18, a fellow member of Calhoun College and a runner on Yale’s men’s cross country and track and field teams.
Calhoun College Dean April Ruiz ’05 said Lee was motivated by a “strong desire to learn new things from her instructors and fellow students.” She added that Lee enjoyed dressing up for special occasions and celebrating accomplishments with those she loved.
Ruiz and Calhoun Head Julia Adams described Lee as having a “gentle presence” and “fundamental sweetness.” They added that she was highly devoted to her family, which played a central role in her life.
Lee, whose father was a member of the South Korean band Koreana, had taken time off school in the spring to marry Sun Ho Lee, the son of the chairman of CJ Group, a Korean conglomerate company. When Rae Na Lee was away from Yale for her wedding in South Korea, Ruiz recalled her emailing about her academic goals and excitement to return to the United States.
In a joint statement to the News Saturday night, juniors and seniors on the Yale women’s fencing team described Lee as “the ultimate teammate” who enjoyed cheering on others during matches. The statement said Lee was both an elegant fencer and a strong fighter who fought not only for points during matches, but for teammates and friends.
“[Lee] was like the sun,” the statement said. “Everywhere she went she brought with her an indefatigable joy and effervescence that we will never truly be able to put into words. We’re not just mourning a fantastic teammate, but an incredible student, friend and person.”
Despite having just learned of Lee’s death, the women’s fencing team traveled to the UPenn Elite Invitational on Saturday. Fencing head coach Henry Harutunian said the team decided that the best way to honor Lee’s memory was to continue competing. Teammates wore ribbons in Lee’s favorite color — pink — on their masks and wrists.
“I could not think of a better tribute,” Harutunian said of the decision to compete. “The women’s team honored [Lee], and I could not be prouder. The men’s team supported them all the way through. Our hearts will be heavy this season, but we will do our best to make [Lee] proud.”
“We have lost a member of our family,” Harutunian added. “Our team is a family, and I only hope we can support Rae Na’s memory and her family in this difficult time.”
Before coming to Yale, Lee attended the Global Christian Foreign School in Korea and participated in fencing as part of South Korea’s Lourus Fencing Club, where she served as captain of the foil squad for three years. She also claimed two consecutive first-place positions in foil at the Seoul Mayor Cup Club Fencing Spring Competition, as well as another win at the 2012 Seoul Mayor Cup Club Fencing Winter Competition. She won the Lourus Fencing Club Coach’s Award in 2011 and competed at the 2013 U.S. summer junior nationals.
After learning of Lee’s death, Adams and Ruiz hosted a gathering in Adams’ house late Friday evening. On Sunday evening, members of the Calhoun community were invited to Adams’ house to write notes of condolence to Lee’s family. Heads of colleges from around the University also organized supportive gatherings over the weekend.